Is climate change “human rights abuse”?

November 13, 2007

A Maldivian woman sits on a dyke built to protect a tiny island from the ravages of the sea, 2001Small island states meeting in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean this week are working on a resolution saying that climate change is a threat to human rights.

Is it?

The idea of linking human rights and the environment — a strategy also adopted by the Inuit in the Arctic who have also launched a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — is a way to put pressure on all nations to do more to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

An attraction for petitioners is that it would work out a lot cheaper than the option of suing major emitters for doing too little to curb emissions An Inuit man in Canada adds a a caribou antler to a pile on his home, 1999, where it will be picked clean by birdsfrom factories, power plants and cars — a charge most often aimed at the United States. Most small island states lack the cash to try the courts.

And, even accepting findings by the U.N. climate panel that it is “very likely” that human activities are the main cause of recent climate change, it would be hard to persuade a court to order countries to pay compensation or tighten curbs on greenhouse gases.

A human rights route might be easier because it seeks to spread responsibility to all emitters.

If your island home is washed away by rising seas, or if Inuit cannot hunt seals because sea ice is no longer solid, then that might be interpreted as a violation of basic rights, for instance to property, culture and freedom of movement, laid out by the United Nations in the 1948 universal declaration of human rights.

Article 13 says, for instance that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” That might be impossible if a coral atoll has been washed away by rising seas and storm surges — the Maldives comprises 1,200 coral islands less than 2 metres above sea level.

Does it make sense to try to relate global warming to human rights? Tell us your view.


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We have reached a time in our history where there is now little doubt that we are having a damaging effect on our environment. The most pressing of our problems being climate change.

Every day we release millions and millions of tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere, the main culprits of course are fossil fuels. Our addiction to oil and coal are largely the reason for our rocket like progress in the last 100 plus years, cheap energy consumed in ever increasing servings by each of us has given us better lifestyles like that of royalty in preceding centuries.

Our success as a species I believe will be measured by how much coal and oil we can leave in the ground.

The time has come to move ahead again, not in a quantum leap, just baby steps are all we need. Technology is the double edged sword that we will either use to help fix the problem, or just continue to add to our swelling appetite for energy.

As much as I would like to see wind and tidal power, geo thermal energy, solar collection and bio fuels relieve our dependence on oil and coal, these technologies are still in their infancy and cannot compete with fossil fuels in the real world (well not yet!).

With India and China now wanting a slice of the pie you and I have enjoyed all our lives, coal burning power plants mushroom at the speed of one every 7-10 days. These facilities have an expected life of 40-50 years.

So what is the answer, the N word. Nuclear. The technology is mature, the impact on our environment compared with fossil fuel is negligible, and it is the only form of energy production that can compete with Coal & Oil.

Sure we know of the dangers but aren’t we in trouble now? We are the drowning man and Nuclear energy (in the short term) is the only hand we have reaching out to us.

Look on Nuclear energy as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. Let’s be realistic and make the hard decisions while we still have time to do so.

What do you think?


Posted by Jamie | Report as abusive

I just prepared a short video about climate change and Maldives. You can see it online at: 58

I think what Maldives is doing to try to link human rights to climate change is interesting.

Posted by Victoria | Report as abusive

Thanks i like the video, Victoria — i didn’t know that the Maldives were the first to sign Kyoto

Posted by alister doyle | Report as abusive